Below is the information about a training in September 2015 that I led for the activist council of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship. We have covenanted to deal with questions and learnings around race and privilege each time we gather.
Thank you to Abbi Heimach who helped work on this module for training and Joe Paparone from Labor-Religion Coalition who helped co-facilitate.
This was a training created specifically for a group that was mostly Euro-American (white) and is at a beginning phase of its thinking/interrogating collectively and personally. We noticed that as we got into the Q&A time there were varying degrees of receptivity and difficulty going deep and personal into self-interrogration or self-interruption of internal racial cues. We set the room up in round tables and people were invited to mix into different groups for conversations/discussion. We had pauses for conversation and time for “report back” and group reflection. This was broken into two parts:
We began with the setting of ground rules. These come from Eric Law’s work around Respectful Communications Guidelines.
We then introduced the topic with a reminder of our covenant to work on this issue as a group. We discussed how we will take collective ownership for our conversation, that if there are parts that concern or upset/offend any of us, we should feel free and safe to bring them to the group for conversation.
We began with biblical reflection on Ecclesiastes 3. We read this often quoted passage about time and invited us to consider the conversation about anti-racism and undoing racism in ourselves in the context of time:
We asked some opening questions:
“Why are we still a nearly all white organization that has as its core ideas like “transformation,” “nonviolence,” and “peacemaking?” This requires we not only take a very hard look at ourselves, but also work on our learning on these issues at every opportunity we have, because the fact that our organization is set up the way it is means that we have a problem. What is it about the system that we have that makes it inhospitable to people of color? What are the subtleties at play as an organization and for us as individuals that create this inhospitable climate that we barely even recognize?”
We then set the stage with the watching of a video by Ta-Nehishi Coates, as a way for the group to listen to a “younger” voice who is not from the generation of the Civil Rights Movement (which is what the Peace Fellowship often listens to). We also wanted to push a group committed to nonviolence to listen to someone who is not committed to nonviolence. As a group committed to Christian faith we wanted to push the limits to listen to someone who self-describes as atheist.
We chose this clip to challenge a number of boundaries but to also offer an opportunity for deep listening. Click on link below:
We then broke into our groups and invited small groups into times to interrogate a series of questions in small groups and then to process in the larger group. The groups were invited to think in deep and personal ways about each of these questions. The first slide was to discuss the larger themes in DiAngelo’s work and what White Fragility looks like:
These were the four questions we asked, going into greater levels of difficulty with each question. We noticed that some went right into personal interrogation with these questions, others were not able to do that internal work and so stayed on the surface and dealt in organizational dynamics. Every one of us is different in our ability to enter into these conversations. It was clear that at the end there was a sense of tiredness in the room, this is difficult work! Nothing was answered, nothing was finished, this was just one step in the holy work we have before us to know ourselves more deeply and understand our own internal cues as we seek to build beloved community.
Additional Questions that we had prepared based on DiAngelo’s work but that we did not have time for in this training:
- How do you react when it is suggested that your viewpoint as a white person comes from a racialized frame of reference? (challenge to objectivity)
- How does it feel to you when people of color talk openly about their own racial perspectives? (such as the video we just watched) (challenge to white taboos on talking openly about race)
- What does it feel like when you are provided feedback that your actions had a racist impact? (challenge to white racial innocence)
- Do you feel that access is unequal in different racial groups? How does it feel when people of color describe this unequal access in our church? (challenge to meritocracy)
- What is it like for you, really like for you, when a person of color is in a leadership position? (challenge to white authority)
- What it is like for you to watch a movie or go to a show, or read a book when there are no white people represented and the entire drama/story is all around people of color, but not in stereotypical roles? (challenge to white centrality)